Japan: Special Report

In Japan, opposites clash like 20-stone sumo wrestlers. It is a country obsessed with the future and devoted to its past; dynamic but conservative, materialistic and spiritual, sombre yet bizarre.

These differences are both its handicap and saving grace. The way its economic health has withered over 15 painful years owes largely to a resistance to change. Its politicians have failed to reinvigorate a country that, until the 90s, was the envy of the industralised world. Its banks have been run into the ground, its famous lifetime-employment system is unravelling and, worse still, its population is getting older and is a growing burden on the young.

Japan is living beyond its means and growth forecasts are no good reason to crack open the sake. Reform is happening, but it could take another decade before the effects are felt.

As Sosuke Koyama of Bartle Bogle Hegarty Tokyo tells us on page 32, the inimitable creative flair of its leading brands is the most likely way Japan can break out of its slump.

Japan is perhaps a country more alien to the West than any other - as Bill Murray's character discovered in Lost in Translation, as awards juries have found when viewing its ads (madness or genius, it is often difficult to tell), and as Western agencies have learned through experience. Where else could an advertiser hire a team of walking commercials (page 35)?

And where else, as Western agencies have discovered, can an account be so eye-wateringly expensive to run, where the big are getting bigger and the small are left to squabble over the scraps (see opposite)?

Be that as it may, agencies have no choice but to tough it out in a market that remains one of the world's economic, technological and cultural leading lights.

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